MONMOUTH – “On Golden Pond” is a play with legions of fans, and there are none more devoted than its fans in Maine.

A fine Monmouth Community Players cast does full justice to Ernest Thompson’s warm and wistful love story in the current production at Cumston Hall. The play is simple on the surface, but its themes run deep and true as they explore two ways that healing is achieved despite gaps of age and distance.

Norman Thayer, approaching his 80th birthday, is becoming more and more cantankerous as he deals with failing memory and uncertain health. For nearly 50 years, he and Ethel have built a solid marriage, sustained in no small way by summers on their beloved Golden Pond.

Then comes a visit from daughter Chelsea, who has never had a comfortable relationship with Norman. That’s what she calls him – it’s Norman, not Daddy.

With Chelsea are her boyfriend Bill, newly divorced, and his son, Billy. The boy winds up staying with Norman and Ethel for the summer while Chelsea and Bill travel to Europe. It’s during those few weeks that Norman and Billy richly influence each other’s lives, and we come to appreciate the role of Golden Pond itself.

Rick Fayen is excellent as the brusque but vulnerable aging professor. It’s a delight to see his self-centered gloom and grouchiness turn to high-spirited love of life upon the arrival of Billy.

Revelation of Norman’s deeply submerged love for Chelsea is more difficult. Fayen, who came to Maine from Vermont four years ago, and Colleen Mahan as Chelsea always have the audience on their side as their verbal sparring is eventually resolved in mutual respect.

Mahan brings maturity and sincerity to a role that essentially calls for a childish continuation of family infighting.

As Ethel, Thalia Ravlin is the warm-hearted and wise woman whose patience sustains her bond with both Norman and Chelsea, though they can’t get along with each other.

When Chelsea voices one too many unfair shots at Norman, Ethel shows that she can deliver her own stinging response.

John Hutton is outstanding as Billy. John is 13 years old and appearing in his first role in an adult stage production. He plays the part with honest exuberance rather than the tough kid attitude that some productions present.

John Hutton and Thalia Ravlin are mother and son. Mark Hutton, father, is stage manager.

David T. Handley, a regular with Monmouth Community Players, plays Bill with just the right combination of anxiety and courage. A highlight of the show is Bill’s talk with Norman about whether he should be allowed to sleep with Chelsea. Bill sweats through Norman’s head games until he reaches the enough-is-enough stage. He asserts a take-control personality that is deserving of a life with Chelsea and Billy, and it earns Norman’s respect.

Charlie Martin is the real comic relief in this show. Noël Thibodeau debuts on the MCP stage as the lake’s longtime motorboat mailman. His morning visits for biscuits and coffee are punctuated by his loud conversation and laugh. Although it’s an over-the-top caricature of a Mainer, it’s a popular carry-over of the reading given by William Lanteau in the 1981 film with Katherine Hepburn and the Fondas, Henry and Jane. Thibodeau handles the comedy with a klutzy charm, and his character becomes more believable in the moments when his constantly rekindling boyhood crush on Chelsea comes through.

Director Kathleen Nation brings out just the right balance between the familiar and the unexpected in the abilities of her cast. There is no doubt that “On Golden Pond” would get anything but her best effort. She reveals in her program notes that she named her daughter Chelsea after the play’s character.

People who are familiar with Cumston Hall’s unique miniature Victorian opera house decor will forgive the rather awkward fit of a Maine log cabin living room on the stage. Some long black-out scene changes also interrupt the pace and mood, but that’s something that goes with low-budget community theater.

The production crew includes Matt Buganza, producer; Greg French, lighting design; Chris Heckman, props mistress; Gary Currier and Laurie Giffords, stage crew; and Josie French, publicity.

Go and do

WHAT: “On Golden Pond”

WHO: Monmouth Community Players

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25-26 and 2 p.m. Jan. 27

FOR TICKETS: Call 933-2229 or e-mail [email protected]

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